Monday, 30 March 2020

The Wake Knot : a quiet village on the edge


I've been enjoying The Wake Knot, by a friend of this blog R F McMinn

The novel starts in the rural French Dordogne, in a bucolic village somewhere to the north-east of Bordeaux. The beginning builds as group by group of English visitors arrive at a holiday-let to enjoy a French way of life. There's a slight Home Counties air, with many locals also being from the UK but, for example, owning the village restaurant.

Without over-spoiling, this altogether pleasant lifestyle suddenly changes as one of their number - Chris, a holidaymaker cyclist - is forced from the road by a careening 4x4. Fortunately, two other holidaymakers, the lithesome Meg and Charly, find him. Then things get darker, with a mystery which develops around the initially unnamed church, which displays the whip-touting Guthlac, who I'm inclined to describe as an olden-days warrior-monk from Lincolnshire.

I'm hearing the faint background of Sheryl Crow singing "maybe angels" in Guthlac's troubled head, while the characters play Sinatra, back at the holiday-let.

As I'd hope, the mix of characters is well-up for a mystery and can use their combined backgrounds to create a superteam, whose blended skills should be able to solve an increasingly darkening puzzle.

The story-telling is mixed with epicurean delights, as there's plenty of French food on offer and a few riffs on the evolving state of French cuisine in the age of social media. There's also the Zen-like absorption of the cyclist and his preparation for MAMIL-style travel. The main town is something of a citadel, surrounding and protecting the church. The separate holiday-lets and the pool drift towards alchemical symbolism and significance as the story unwraps.

But then, I realise I've been sucked into the mystery. I'm like one of the characters, puzzling over co-incidences, too-good-to-be-true giftings and curious anomalies while musing about Hereward the Wake, Burgh, greenwood and Mandy on the Moon tarot. Part II arrives, and we've flipped to London's media district, around Soho, where more things get piled on to our central characters.

I think I got an inkling of an outcome around now. Chris was being cross-examined by Charly and suddenly I felt a centime begin to drop. It's been done on purpose, I'm sure, to allow me the reader, to check the knotty theory in my head with the increasingly gory occult picture being developed.

An entertaining read.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

edge


Practising for Edge, which I suppose needs to be set in space. I've used Artificial Intelligence to create the image - it's not bad, actually.


MONDAY EVENING

He heard the apartment judder from the impact. A kind of mournful sigh. This one had been close, but not that close. He knew the building was meant to take it in any case.

He looked towards the window, grey night skies, something resembling clouds, thin trails, raked towards the horizon.

Now he looked at the clock. Ten minutes to midnight. This would probably go on until the morning. He expected there to be more crashes and thumps as the battering continued.

He was better indoors. Going outside just added to the tension. If he was able to stay inside he could watch some streams to take his mind off the situation.

He moved from his bedroom into the main living area. He flipped the switch and could suddenly hear the weather. Gentle rain and a rustling of leaves. The occasional spatter of water dripping from branches. He had kept the weather set to April for several months now. Outside it was the end of summer but somehow it didn’t matter what the official calendar said; he had decided to run it at his own speed.

He flipped the main screen. Not the full screen but the one designed to show just entertainment transmissions and data. It opened on a news feed and he gestured for it to move across to his messages. He expected they would ask for him, but so far there were only a few spams that had missed his filtering.

The main room had noise cancellation and so he was now no longer aware of the crashes from outside. Just a slight feeling underfoot as the building absorbed more impacts.

"Peter, give me status." he requested. A small window appeared on the top right of the screen. Everything was green. At this rate, he didn’t need to do anything at all.

Friday, 27 March 2020

the ox stunner


Well, I've finally completed the Triangle Trilogy, which means I could also bundle them into a single volume. There's The Triangle, The Square and The Circle, which creates a kind of Bauhaus construct.

Secretly, I've always wanted to a book called 'The Ox Stunner', which would, of course, have a tag line of 'Thick enough to stun an Ox'.

Of course, in this family, I'm not allowed to get away with such things, without other helpful suggestions.

'Why not print it on thinner paper so that it isn't so heavy to read'...etc

I pointed out that it wouldn't be thick enough to stun an ox, in such circumstances, but we've gone on to design the cover, anyway.

Watch out for it on Amazon, or click here to join the Ed Adams mailing list.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

useful zoom backgrounds


A modest sport in these days of Video conferences is to have the best backgrounds. I know it sounds like slackers' work, but I can't help noticing good images that drop into my inbox and are ideal for creating a background. The one of the Economist's office (shown above) is a good example. Here's a version with me sitting in it.

Instead of everyone being able to see my usual work environment, they can see this rather sleek-looking deserted office. Then there's a couple of room suggestions, which came in a John Lewis mailshot. Instead of buying all the furniture and reconfiguring everything, why not fake it with a good background?

It can look respectable enough, and one doesn't have to let on either.

Then there's the more urgent looking office, you know, the one stuffed with paper. This is particularly effective with routine office dwellers who are slightly self-conscious of their own mess, and can make them feel that they are not the most untidy kid on the block.

I like to have a background reminiscent of the area where I live too, so this one can do for that purpose. It's from the other side of the river, by the passenger ferry.

Then the ever-important London one. Suitable fake with the Elizabeth Tower unscaffolded.

And I like to have a real one of my office, except it is deliberately blurred to give a sense of depth.

And maybe a moody dark one from a different angle to confuse everyone. These last two have the advantage that someone can walk into the real room but be undetectable.

And something for when in a busy VTC and need to get attention:

But I think we can all get the idea, and it does brighten up the videocommute.




Tuesday, 24 March 2020

now wash your hands


I thought I'd have a look at the shorters. The people who are trading stocks against the market. Betting on a crash and making a large profit. Some could say it is exploiting the coronavirus for financial gain.

Let's see, there's BlackRock, Citadel, D1 Capital, and Adelphi Capital betting against a blend of airlines, cruise companies, movie theatres, and mall owners. There's a few information providers to help these companies operate. A helpful diagram from Breakout Point explains the process.

Carnival Cruises has been targeted by BlackRock. Some might remember that George Osborne works for that company. Carnival owns the Princess cruise line, which made headlines with those infected passengers in Japan.

Allegedly the short created gains of roughly $75 million.

Rick Rieder oversees $2.3 trillion as chief investment officer of global fixed income at BlackRock and offers predictions about areas of the credit and stock markets where investors with medium to long time horizons could shop for cheap assets.

Citadel decided to go after the airlines, building short positions on European airlines including Lufthansa, which has fallen by roughly a fifth since last week. Other Citadel shorts included Air France, EasyJet, Wizz Air, and SAS. Lufthansa and Air France have generated around $77 million in gains for Citadel.

The shorters are moving in on the early effects of social isolation now, targeting shopping malls and movie chains. No doubt they are building a 'Top of the Pops' chart of the expected order of misfortune.

D1 Capital placed a large short position against EPR Properties, which owns the real estate of hundreds of movie theatres, golf courses, ski resorts, and other "experiential" venues, as well as London-based Cineworld, which has seen its stock price fall by roughly a third since the start of the year.

Adelphi Capital shorts against three different European real-estate companies - all of which run shopping malls — two Dutch companies, Wereldhave NV and Eurocommercial Properties NV, and Hamburg-based Deutsche EuroShop AG.

Of course, shorting the pound is another more abstract approach. There's a well-known fund that moved to Dublin ahead of Brexit to clear its trades inside the EU. It bet against the pound around Brexit time and made a tidy sum. One of its part-owners, a well-known MP, must have been pleased to trouser several million. I suppose the ongoing pound drift is further encouragement to the shorters. Pass the hand gel. Then watch this FT conference call.


Monday, 23 March 2020

Bianca, Oberon, Miranda and Titania


Well, the video conferencing seems to be going okay.

We're ahead of the curve around here and various space-age local groups are launching the Skype or Zoom instead of heading for the pub or the restaurant at the end of the Universe.

It put a couple of other minor stresses on the household LAN, but I've resolved that now. It was slightly strange to receive a message to my Apple watch from the coffee machine, along the lines that the coffee machine had dropped offline.

It could only mean one thing. That the home LAN had dropped out.

Now, I did see a couple of men digging the road yesterday, close to the front of the house, so I'm not sure, just maybe.

I did the thing that any good technician would do and switched everything off, counted to 30 and then progressively restarted everything.

Fortunately, it worked and we are back in business.

And I took a few extra minutes to get the garage's G-Bianca access point to sweep across the sunny garden, wirelessly uplinked from K-Titania.

(*Strictly the moons shown are Puck, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon; Bianca is too small)

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Let's play videoconferencing


The rise in video conferencing over the last couple of days has been extraordinary. Here's my experience of a few varieties.

APPLE FACETIME GROUP CALLING

This is the easiest one to use, but it only works for people with Apple hardware. It's so easy to just add extra people to a call and doesn't cost anything. Need to pursuade the rest of the WIndows-owning or android-owning family to shift allegiances.

SKYPE

Ah. The venerable skype. Also relatively easy to set up and on many computers already. Works across multiple platforms (Windows/Apple etc), but can be troublesome to get the right version which needs to interface with the right browser. Can have a tendency to sound like it is underwater.

Still, it fairly reliable and also cheap. I particularly like the blur background feature with this one. We are using it for the German Group.

ZOOM

For the cool cats. It used to cost about £11 per month, but there's a free option now which gives 40-minute calls. I like Zoom and it is very simple to set up and use with simple big buttons. Used by thesixtwenty.com and the local choir.

Good audio and can handle many dial-ins. I like the fun ability to change the animated backgrounds - swaying palm trees and surf rolling in.

TEAMS

Microsoft Teams come with Office 365, although it is hidden and does not show up as an option for download. It think itused to be called messenger. It is one of the least friendly systems, and contains some amazing error messages, which are okay if you are a systems developer, with good internal knowledge of Azure Active Directory. We are attempting to use it as a family facility.

Of course, there's more than this list - Google hangouts and Facebook are a couple of examples, but I think I've picked the common ones, at least the ones that get used around here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

sign O' the times

Yesterday was a tricky day for me. I made the 378 mile drive from Newcastle in the North East to Exeter in the South West, planning to go to my German Stammtisch in the evening.

I was back in time to meet at the pub, but during the journey, the bluffer came onto the news and advised that we shouldn't go to the pub. It left me with something of a dilemma because I knew that several people would make the effort to attend, and so I decided to go, making it an exceptional visit ahead of the new lockdown.

By today we are operating in new times. Any sense of control from the government is illusory, with markets tanking, insufficient healthcare provisioning, and fibs from the people at the top about such things as liaison with supermarket chains.

We can recognise the moves too. It is covering up the unpreparedness for the emergency. The flip-flop of decisions and the background scrape of whiteboard markers dreaming up new charts to show how things are All Right Really. Our frontman claims that the UK is leading the world in handling the emergency. Bunkum. The UK is trying to catch up.

The picture shows 2020 gift suggestion of loo rolls, pasta and hand sanitiser

Monday, 16 March 2020

Redcoat and Last Seen Bensham Road


I managed to get to the theatre one more time before the hammer came down and everywhere closed. It was at the excellent Live Theatre’s Elevator Festival which offers a platform for new work. I was lucky enough to see solo shows Last Seen Bensham Road and Redcoat, which were presented as a double bill.

Last Seen Bensham Road, written and performed by Samantha Neale, tells Tanya's story of a struggling single mother who considers herself inadequate as a parent. She explores themes of being without money and unable to calm her screaming son. There are other mums at her son's school who are better off and Tanya wants to hide away from their stares and judgements. She wishes she could just disappear until one day, she literally does.

Then there was Redcoat a partially autobiographical piece, recounting writer and performer Lewis Jobson’s experiences working as a Redcoat entertainer in Bognor Regis "Once a Red, always a Red."

He bursts onto the stage and radiates kilowatts of energy and charm as he indulges the audience in a day in the life of a Redcoat.

Sparse staging gives Lewis more room to perform, and we get some real Redcoat crowd-pleasing mixed in with the life backstage. I thought it was a tour-de-force, blending physical comedy, sketches, singing, dancing and -er- balloon modelling, all performed with fun and a kind of cheeky craziness.

There's almost too many 'That bit's' in it...That bit where the audience fills in on the Karaoke...That bit where Pingu turns up at the night club...That bit where he has to describe and mimic each of his co-singers...and so on.

Lewis shows the other side of the life, too, with comments about having a smile permanently welded to his face, the hangovers from the nights out/days off and the gentler moments as he entertains the smaller guests.

Amazing.

Friday, 13 March 2020

influencer?


I know we're supposed to take the Covid-19 seriously. Wash our hands, drink hot salty water, be prepared to self-isolate. But I can't quite get my head around the latest Boris television broadcast. I know he wants to be the statesman and to keep calm in a crisis, but it all rings somewhat hollow with me. Like he's skim-read the text and is now reciting. it. with. long. pauses. for gravitas.

Yesterday the Stock market crash-landed and the day before Boris's chums shoved out a budget which was a U turn against the ones that George Osborne had been pushing for the last ten years. Austerity, no, strike that, Spend.

As for taking back control, the markets seem to be saying no to that. And now the 50,000 nurse vacancies illustrate the hole that the current regime's previous leadership have got us into.
Boris is slightly better at reading than tRump, but they both have the aura of spray-on golden autoprompter stunts, fed from a back-room somewhere.

The market may be blipping positive again today. Not the 2200 points positive that it needs to recover. The media quoted daily percentage loss is no true reflection of the 27% loss which has occurred over the last two weeks. That's more than a quarter off the valuations of everything. But at least the heatmap has turned positive again.

Well, despite the rumours, Dilyn the Dog manages to hang in there.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

42 - don't panic


How cruel and cynical when people monetize COVID-19? We've seen the FTSE100 drop by 2000 points and wipe billions from share prices. It's supposed to be about virus uncertainty. Nope. It's about profit taking.

Fat cats have done okay out of this on the way down and can now buy cheap equities on the way back up again. Kerching.

Now the Russians, Saudi Arabia and Americans are squabbling over oil prices to mix in more uncertainty. The Americans can wash their hands in messy shale oil production $65, with Texan oil needing to be around $50, Russian around $42 and Saudi around $80 per barrel for break even. The sustained low prices ($35?) will crash smaller players out of the market as big players buy market share. tRump will say it's good for the motorist, of course.

I've been travelling recently and I noticed one UK hotel I was booked to stay had closed. It was preparatory work for a National Isolation Centre, where travellers could be booked into isolation. The men on the gate in yellow hats were very pleasant and handed me the three-page explanation.

Never a dull moment.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Þingvellir in Bláskógabyggð, site of the Althing Parliament


We travelled to Þingvellir, which is in Bláskógabyggð, southwestern Iceland, near the peninsula of Reykjanes and the Hengill volcanic area.

Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

When the Icelandic Parliament (the Althing) formed, in AD930, where better to assemble the entire population of 60,000, than at this site?

Sunday, 8 March 2020

blue lagoon


An essential visit during time in Iceland is to go to the Blue Lagoon. I was unprepared for the luxurious experience that greeted us. It is a myriad of intercoinnected lagoons, with their water heated from the nearby geothermal rocks, and utilising drill holes that go down 2000 metres.

But oh, it is so much more. Covering an area of 400,000 m² in the heart of the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, Blue Lagoon is a place where nature, science, design, and wellness converge, creating a world of 'warmth, wonder, and wellbeing'.

There are paths connecting all of its experience areas, although the best plan is to walk along blue waterways through landscapes rich with geothermal, geological, and floral phenomena.

It is pamper central, with fluffy bathrobes, and two or three skin creams to apply to help shed those years.

There's the bar in the pool, where one can partake of beverages, and the lagoons go on seemingly forever. Yes, it is vast and heated to a very warm temperature, which makes wandering around in the icy winds very enjoyable. Just remember where you've left the dressing gown for any short walks in the air!

Friday, 6 March 2020

Harpa


Strolling around Reykjavik, this time to Harpa, the grand concert hall opened in 2011. It has the name of a pagan season, voted for by the people of the city. There is a granduer about the architecture with sweeping internal vistas and views across to the glaciers.

And then, at night, it illuminates, with flickering lights running along the glass shape. And check out that long staircase.